I left my job as an IT/business consultant in 2011 to make my living as an author, professional speaker and entrepreneur.
But I started well before that and I've been sharing my journey here since Dec 2008. Today I'm thrilled to introduce you to Pat Fitzpatrick who also left IT for writing and has just released his first novel, Keep Away From Those Ferraris. He shares some of his tips around making writing pay the bills.
It is six years since I quit a good job in I.T. to make my fortune as a freelance writer. My mother still hasn’t got over it. I’m still waiting for my fortune, but I’ve learned some priceless lessons along the way. Here is what I know.
(1) Do the Maths
Let’s start with the money.
You won’t have any to start out with.
It might seem an obvious thing to say, but the first thing that happens when you quit a job to follow your dream is that your bank account goes awfully quite at the start of every month. This can be a bit tricky unless you have incriminating photographs of your bank manager. I don’t have such photos (or a bank manager really) so I had to go out and earn my share of the mortgage.
You need to figure out a way to pay the bills or else the stress will wipe out the enjoyment of your new career. And you’re supposed to enjoy it.
(2) Go for a long good bye
The dream goes like this. You quit your 9 to 5 job on a Friday and write a bestseller by Wednesday week.
That’s fine in Hollywood; I live in Cork. That’s why I made the transition in stages, starting with a couple of articles for a Sunday newspaper that I wrote in my spare time. The editor wanted more so I dropped down to four days a week on the I.T. front, with Fridays set aside for writing. This allowed me to pay my way and check if I still wanted to be a writer. I did. Then we had to do an on-line ethics course in my I.T. job. This involved an animated character called the Ethics Buddy coming on screen to congratulate me every time I got a question right. Here I was in my mid-30s being patronized by a cartoon character. I quit I.T. and made the leap into writing for good. I’d like to thank the Ethics Buddy for making that possible.
(3) Work for free
There is a big debate out there around whether writers should be doing work for free. My advice is keep out of that debate and write some stuff for free.
Why? It’s not slavery, it’s an investment. And it’s free training, where you get to hone your craft.
Write every eight hundred word piece as if it might be read by millions of people. Or just one editor looking for new talent. Because you never know who is reading or listening. I have a regular slot on national TV because a producer heard me talking about the new series of Dallas on a radio show. It’s all very well to have a strategic vision and a five year plan. But you will also need a chunk of luck. And whenever you write and talk in public, you are making your own luck.
(4) Hang on, will this ever pay?
Yes, once you do something that no one else can do.
Here’s the awkward truth – there are far more writers out there than paying writing jobs. You need to stand out. I have made a name for myself as someone who can turn around funny, satirical copy week after week. This exposure has led to ancillary gigs on radio and TV. I only discovered I could write this kind of copy after some embarrassing stints as a business reporter among other things. So keep going until you find your niche.
(5) Take it personally
I suffered a minor emotional collapse the first time an editor sent an article back saying this isn’t good enough. Why?
Because I come from a technical background, where there is an objectively correct way to do things. I wasn’t used to criticism or differences over taste. I am now. Any creative endeavor involves sifting through criticism and judging how much of it to take on board. People say you shouldn’t take criticism personally. People are wrong. You need to take it personally. Otherwise, I don’t think you care enough about your creation. And you need to care.
(6) Get around
Here is my current working week. I write for two newspapers and one television show, appear on national TV and radio, work as a copywriter for a number of ad agencies and I spend an hour a day writing the sequel to my first novel, Keep Away From Those Ferraris.
In the past six years, I have also been a radio reporter, business journalist, book reviewer and travel writer. My career so far has been a series of micro start-ups. Some failed, some worked. The important thing is that I get around. You should do the same. It builds up important networks and gives you some fall-back if one of your gigs comes to an end. And one thing is guaranteed if you work in the media right now – gigs will come to an end.
(7) You need somebody to lean on
It’s not just the regular pay cheque I miss from my old days in I.T. I miss the camaraderie, the chats in the canteen and speculating whether the new Spanish Unix specialist and that guy from accounts have started seeing each other on the sly. (That’s Cork-speak for behind our backs.) You’ll miss it too.
Creativity can be a lonely business. My Grandfather had a phrase – you need to get out and meet the people. It works for business and pleasure. So make sure to join a writer’s group, hire some space in a shared office one day a week, play squash, meet one contact a week for coffee, anything that will get you away from your desk and in front of another human being. If nothing else, the change will get the creative juices flowing.
(8) And finally…
Get out of bed 30 minutes earlier in the morning to do some writing. That’s the clearest, simplest thing you can do to give your career a boost. And you can do it tomorrow morning. So give it a try and let me know how you get on. And good luck.
Have you made your writing pay the bills? How do you do it? Please leave a comment or a question below.
Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork, Ireland. After 19 years working in the I.T. industry he decided to jump ship in 2008 and head for the lucrative world of writing. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns plus TV and radio appearances have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. He is currently busy writing a series of novels about the weird place that was Ireland in the last 15 years. The first novel of the series, Keep Away From Those Ferraris, is available on Amazon.
You can find Pat at: www.patfitzpatrick.ie
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons money by epsos.de